The Draw of the Salish Sea

Inland from the Pacific, on the west coast of Cascadia, the Salish Sea fills the glacially-carved mountain valley system between Vancouver Island and the older island chains lifted into the sky in which I live. Look how even a glance towards North America at dawn reveals a torrential river of cloud pouring in off the Pacific, and a wall of fog as it rises over the mountains on the eastern edge of the sea. This emptiness is the human habitat. Its draw is our wellspring.

50th Parallel at Dawn

The boulders in the foreground, visible only at very low tides, are left from the glaciers that poured down off the mountains and cut this valley deep enough that it became a negative space that drew the Pacific into its body. The mingling of fresh, glacial water and salt water at that time is repeated here every year. Every spring so many mountain rivers pour down into this sea that in many places it is more an estuary system, blending salt and fresh water much like the bands of light and cloud you see here, than it is an ocean.

Every glacier creates empty space. Trees and water, air, gulls and salmon have moved into the space at the same time that the space drew them in. Without that space, there would be little to draw humans here as well. There would be rock.

Imagine the Technological Possibilities!

Imagine if you could regulate heat loss and roof melting simply by switching from a flat roof to a roof covered in river rock, or a lightweight approximation of it. The insulating properties of the rock would keep the cold of the snow away from the roof, while the relative warmth of the snow would insulate the rock. Temperate change be gradual. What’s more, air flowing around the rounded forms of the rock would draw off the heat they give off while cooling under the effects of the snow, which would draw off the snow in channels, while allowing the insulating processes of snow and rock to continue. The rounded rocks are essential to make the process work. 

One Day After the Snow

Such a construction technique applied to even greater open spaces would allow for the gradual melting of snow, preventing sudden run-off events and allowing for a steady pumping of water through an environment. Notice how cheat grass uses thatch (below) to incubate seed in warmth, along a similar principle…

… while using the thatch to keep a warm layer of air next to the soil. By the time freezing happens, the soil will be drenched with melted snow. At that point, melting will add heat to the soil.

Three dimensional roofs with channels, that manipulate freezing and thawing processes to maintain steady states or gain an advantage on climate, that’s the way. Of course, you could farm like this, too. Then again, is that not the general form of Cascade, with an uneven surface generating warm valley floors?

The Big Bar Esker Against the Marble Range

And again?

My Grandfather Bruno Leipe and His Dog Pootzie Above the Similkameen, c. 1963

photo Hugo Redivo

In the case of the Similkameen, the warm valley floor is a sea of infilled river gravel in a deep glacial trench, which takes us back to where we began…

 

Cascadia is a dynamic land, isn’t it! By reducing run-off, and spreading out growing seasons, much of the work of industrial agricultural systems can be done at no cost, after original set-up. And we’re still talking about systems of depreciation and extraction, why?

The Waves of Cascadia

Here we are on the surface of the Yellowstone Plume, the newest part of my country, Cascadia.

These are the Mammoth Hot Springs.

It’s hot there, and exquisite.

And stunning. It’s all on the surface for you to see.

Up to the north and west, in a land of volcanic collisions rather than a vast eye of heat, the same process of water-borne minerals being deposited as salts takes place when the old sea beds are bared by dynamite.

When I contemplate how many times these salts have cycled through the sea, I am struck by how the Yellowstone Plume and the Pacific Ocean off the Cascadian shore are the same.

Salt Hanging Out With the Salmon in the Salish Sea

We could call them the Pacific Plume and the Yellowstone Sea.

Vernon, British Columbia, A Cascadian City

Not just that. Look how the atmosphere and the landforms, and the lakes play along. That’s fog from Kalamalka Lake lying over Coldstream Ranch in the middle distance. Consider for a moment how clouds, mountains, fog and the breakage points of uplifted seabeds, and the volcanoes erupting through them, are all the same sea and the same plume. It is useful to give them separate names, such as hill and cloud, sky and water, volcanics and so on, but those are words that come from far away. Here, they are the same energy folding into and outside of itself. The knowledge contained in a great European thinker like Descartes, or a great European dramatist, like Shakespeare, has its equal here, in exactly what you are looking at in this image. If you do not see it, it’s time to go walking! In this country, there is no such thing as a mountain.

These are not mountains.

Coyote Den in Priest Valley, looking west over Fjord Lake Okanagan

Forest Salmon in the Salmon Forest

In a trickle of water among the ferns among the roots of a red cedar tree high above San Josef Bay,

… a tiny salmon lives out its first year, hunting insects in water so dark it feels like air, occasionally shot through with light as the trees high above shift in the sky.

The trees that shade these tiny waters have grown from the bodies of the ancestors of this salmon. Now, this salmon forest is home for the future. This fish is the forest.

This is just one of the spiritual bodies of a salmon. Look at the skin it draws to itself from the water and carries to sea.

Eating farmed salmon is poison for your soul.

 

Where the Woods Meet the Water

Yesterday, I mentioned that Naomi Klein’s critique of this past season of storms and fires missed a Cascadian perspective. Here’s one, from Shuswap Lake.

Let me decode that. When one is of a place, instead of moving into place from a position of external power, one cannot speak of the trees, the rock, the fire, the air or the water without speaking of oneself. The image of the ponderosa pine tree “reflected” in Shuswap Lake is a good approximation of what that is like. So is this Kokanee, from Redfish Creek on Kootenay Lake:

Kokanee are what are called “land-locked” salmon. I doubt they see it that way. There are powerful political and economic forces that make the story of Big Oil critical to weather patterns this summer. There are equally powerful local forces, often expressions of external forces, that make the land susceptible to these global forces, which are called weather but are really economic, social and political, which have great power to amplify or deaden the effects of such global patterns as Big Oil. When we as the people of Cascadia develop intellectual traditions that begin with this migrating loon on a lake drenched in smoke and the light from a red sun, rather than from the smoke and the red sun, we will have the ability to resist Big Oil:

Until then, we will be helping Big Oil along, no matter how much we protest. In other words, protest against Big Oil is vital. Beneath its veneer, however, deeper structural work of bringing the earth into the human social group will need to happen if we are to heal or be in any way whole. We can do this. But it has to be whole, and it has to begin here:

Distance is a dangerous  illusion.

Global Warming is Half the Story

Naomi Klein has written a strong, compassionate article about this summer’s fires and hurricanes, and has illustrated it with stunning and heartbreaking photographs.

https://theintercept.com/2017/09/09/in-a-summer-of-wildfires-and-hurricanes-my-son-asks-why-is-everything-going-wrong/

Her title suggests that her purpose may have been to answer the question as to why in a summer of wildfires and hurricanes “everything is going wrong.” She talks about global environmental catastrophe and big oil. If she were a Cascadian, she would speak about how land use policy, governmental and business policy towards Indigenous people and earth, American personal mythology, as well as forest policy, and water management policy errors have catastrophically intercepted the effects of Big Oil to create extreme situations. Every fire, and every hurricane, needs breakable conditions to create breakage. Ms. Klein also speaks about the necessity of protest and resistance, which are, without argument, important political tools, yet she doesn’t speak about Henry David Thoreau, who insisted, before and during the American Civil War of 1861-1865 that the issue at hand was slavery and the mechanism at play was industrial land use. To speak so transformatively is the real resistance. Thoreau’s resistance walked hand in hand with the creation of Cascadia out of the struggles of slavery and freedom in industrialized mid-19th century USA and its corollary forces in Britain, and their intersection with Indigenous struggles to maintain the earth within human social relationships. You can’t talk about the place without talking about this intersection. Anything else is to talk about the United States, or Canada. That’s like trying to speak about Mozambique by talking about Slovakia. If Ms. Klein were from the grasslands of Cascadia, she would use the words summer with great care. It’s not a word that fits very well here. I was quite shocked to hear her talk in such an elite way about the fires that are still burning in my country, in an apocalyptic fashion, too. The task of speaking better, and indigenously, gets harder all the time for all the smoke.


Shuswap Lake

The rising sun should just not be this darned red.

The Glacial Sky of Cascadia in the Morning

This is not an image of mountains, not of what rises or mounts, but what held against the ice that cut all else away.

The Coast Mountains

The ice is now air. Humans, bears,  martins,  squirrels, eagles and bobcats, to name a few, pass through it: the people of the ice. Nice.

No More Wild Fires Please

It is a catastrophic summer in the Interior of British Columbia. Close to 15,000 people have been evacuated from their communities. Indigenous communities who refuse to leave are isolated. Read about the grim situation at Anaham here: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/first-nations-community-holds-on-as-fire-threatens The question of why these people have chosen to stay in the face of catastrophic fire, isolation and great danger can be answered only in troubling ways. They are, however, simple enough. The tsilqhot’in are this place of fire. There is no evacuation. A lot of this has to do with a century and a half of great cultural hurt, but there’s a positive story here as well. Perhaps this image from the height of this land, at the crest of the Yellowstone Plume, in the great caldera that is the heart of winter …

…and fire on this continent and which anchors our country, Cascadia, like the eye of a pool in one of her rivers displays something of the answer:

A pine rooting on the face of the cooled molten plume, from this post about my journey to the height of the land: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2015/09/28/cascadia-land-of-fire/

If we call these uncontrollable and violent fires “wild fires”, we are participating in the environmental destruction that has created them rather than in the solutions that will control them. Until then, they will remain gothic and destructive, like the nineteenth century creations that they are. At the moment, of course, we must protect our homes and our loved ones, with all the vigour we can bring to this terrifying and important work, but let’s do it in a way that leads directly to the future that must follow this catastrophe of environmental mismanagement. Let’s call these fires by their correct names. They are not wild. Fire lives in this plateau. Smoke, such as obscured Okanagan Lake below, is the natural form of summer here.

Through neglect to honour fire’s primary place, it has been called into violent incarnation by excess fuel. The explosive sage below, above my house, is a bomb waiting to explode, and it’s the creation of bad resource policy. It can be fixed. We will have to be doing this in the next few years.

 

 

To say these horrific fieres are wild, is to say that an abstract notion of fire is fire’s base state, and that fire that escapes the boundaries of the controls of intellectual understanding is “wild”. That’s insulting. In Cascadia, wild fire control began a bit more than a century ago, to protect the nationalized forests made out of depopulated native space for the benefit of industrial and recreational use. This management regime was a replacement for indigenous fire management, in land forcibly removed from indigenous control. The indigenous understanding was based on living within space. The replacement, modern civilization, declared the land wild and foreign to human consciousness. That was a lie. Fire remains far bigger than any human or any collection of humans. Perhaps the image below of when the grassland hill above my house burnt a few years back and the fire turned to life within a few weeks can illustrate the edges of the tsilqhot’in resistance to evacuation. Within a few weeks, this:

Nootka Rose Sprouting from Cooked Rock

Let’s bring the irresistible force of living and destructive and creative fire within our social group and develop strategies to tame it. It’s coming to us anyway, horrifically. Yes, let’s save our homes, our farms, our communities, our forests, and our lives with all the effort we can bring to it, but let’s then move on to build a society that recognizes that fire is the natural state of this place.The failure to create civilized, or artful, fire within organic environments such as grasslands and forests, except at moments of catastrophe when fire sweeps in waves across the land due to being ignored for too long and its potential disrespected, is also a created state, but not one of which we should in any way be proud. And I want to be proud of how we live with fire. This work can wait until the crisis is over, but we can start now in a small way, by throwing away that awful racist term: wild fire. The time for that was 160 years ago, two weeks ago, today, and tomorrow. Fire is here to stay. Let’s hope we are too.